EVENT: Under The Crazy Moon 2019

Testarossa Exit.jpg

If you’ve ever listened to just about any episode of the Carbitrage podcast, you might have noticed that there is a “super secret Wheels of Italy meet” that happens at Pazzaluna in St. Paul as celebration the restaurant’s birthday, the name of the event is Under the Crazy Moon. This event is, without a doubt, the best event of the year in the world.

Ferrari 348.jpg

What makes it the best event though? Much like InterMarque, it is a combination of everything coming together perfectly on behalf of the event organizer. It is a combination of the location, the laid back atmosphere and, least of all, the cars. It is even more impressive because, instead of being a weekend show where it is much easier to organize things, it’s all done on a weekday. It is the perfect reprise from sitting behind a computer and wincing whenever the phone rings.

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This year was off year for the show, but if Under The Crazy Moon can still retain this level of quality on a bad day, it just goes to show that they’re definitely doing something right. The issue with the show wasn’t even the fault of the organizer, rather it was a combination of the weather being dodgy and the city digging a 3 foot deep trench on the main road used for the event.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Track Car.jpg

The organizer of the show creatively worked around this issue and instead of it’s normal L-shaped two street layout, they opted for a two and a half street layout creating a T-shape. This actually worked out really well and I hope they continue with the extra street extension in future showings. It allows the patio of Pazzaluna to become enveloped by the show, making for the dining experience of any italophile’s dreams, and makes foot traffic much more manageable, no more having to tip toe between a parked Countach and a DeTomaso Pantera on it’s way out.

Fiat 500.jpg

The cars themselves were wonderful, unfortunately, a lot of the really cool stuff stayed away due to the threat of severe weather. I don’t blame them because PDR on a Ferrari 250 GTO LWB would be a nightmare. That being said, everything else was in show. It was a large swath of Italia from Fiat 500s to Lamborghini Aventadors.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

One of the cars that really drew my eye was this Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT. The Alfa Romeo Twin Cam is in the running for one of the most beautiful 4-cylinder engines ever produced. That aesthetic beauty expands to the rest of the car and, much like a Datsun 510, it is a lot more than just a pretty face because these were among the first sports sedans ever made. Prior to cars like these you could get a 2-seater sports car or a family sedan. These however, they combined the best of both worlds and laid the groundwork for most car enthusiast’s favorite cars.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Engine.jpg

Here is that aforementioned Alfa Twin Cam engine. It is an 8 valve DOHC engine that was in production from 1954 until 1994 in various form factors. This was a pioneering engine that brought 4 cylinders from being simple power mills in production cars to being something worthy of the word sporty. With this engine, race car technology made its way into the hands of the average Joe, or rather Giuseppe. Technology like aluminum metallurgy, a centralized spark plug location, hemispherical combustion chambers, a wide valve angle and 5-main bearings, were almost exclusively seen on cars like the Ferrari 500 Mondial in the mid-1950s when this engine was designed. This was an absolutely groundbreaking engine and it makes sense why it was produced for 40 years.

Mondial front

On the other end of exciting family cars is a Ferrari Mondial. Other than the 400i, I can’t think of another Ferrari that is as universally unloved as this car. It doesn’t really make sense either because a Mondial is just a Ferrari 308 in 2+2 form factor. Unlike the 2+2 Z-cars, or really any 2+2 outside of a Supra, the Mondial actually pulls off the shape and actually has some design cues that are very much its own. Maybe it was never loved because Don Johnson, David Hasselhoff or Tom Selleck never drove them.

Mondial Grille.jpg

This massive grille across the front of the car is a prime example of a Mondial only design. Sure, it’s not an Testarossa and it’s definitely not a F40. It’s not even Magnum P.I.’s car either, which is the cheapest of the desirable 80’s Ferraris. But, importantly, the Mondial is about 25% cheaper than Magnum P.I.’s 308. Can you honestly say that you’re getting 25% less car for the dollar? It’s 2+2 form factor also gives the perspective owner some ammo for convincing their significant other to let them get a Ferrari. “But honey, look, it’s a 2+2! We can bring the kids or your parents!” Just be sure to gloss over the rear seat comfort and maintenance costs of course.

Fiat 124 Abarth.jpg

If maintenance costs aren’t your thing, then most Italian cars probably aren’t either, but there are some outliers, and this is a prime example, the criminally underrated Fiata (Fiat 124). It has the grown up and exciting feeling you get from an Italian sports car but with the bulletproof reliability of a Miata coupled with Fiat’s Multiair 1.4L engine. I don’t understand everyone’s gripe with the turbo lag either, first off, it is barely noticeable and second off, isn’t the Porsche 930 Turbo desired because of it’s turbo lag? These are a bargain of a buy, ludicrously fun, and I really can’t stress enough how awesomely reliable the Multiair engine is.

Ferrari 308 Front.jpg

The majority of the show had some of the best that Italy has to offer. This Ferrari 308 is a prime example. It has 240 horsepower roughly and isn’t the greatest at everything but it doesn’t need to. When you see a 308, it draws your eye, it gets you excited. That’s something that a lot of the modern Ferraris are lacking. Modern Ferraris are also lacking the ability to look great when paired with a mustache and Hawaiian shirt.

Ferrari 308 Doorhandle.jpg

When I was looking a bit more closely at the 308 I noticed something that I absolutely love about it. To be fair, I love everything about it but I discovered that it has the best door handle I’ve ever seen. It’s a simple loop and is a rare curve on the angular car, it is just painfully Italian. I never realized that I had never looked at the door handle of a 308 until this show and I am really glad that I did because it makes me feel like my life is complete now. Little design cues like this are why people are in love with Italian cars, it is such an easily overlooked piece and is perfectly designed. You could bet yourself that if this was an American car, they would have just slapped a door handle off of a econobox onto it and called it a day.

Fiat 850 Spider.jpg

That’s not to say that econoboxes are bad things. This Fiat 850 Spider is a variant of Fiat’s 850 series compact cars, which were the final evolution of the Fiat 500s and 600s. So, this little roadster is based on a car that was an econobox before the term ever existed. I never took a good look at these assuming they were just early Fiat 124s until very recently and I was completely wrong thinking there wasn’t much to them.

Fiat 850 Spider engine.jpg

The 850 Spider is actually a really cool car and it is completely separate from the 124. It has the tiniest rear mounted water cooled inline-4. Well not literally the tiniest but the 846 cc engine was barely longer than my forearm and it’s radiator placement is interesting to say the least, I am really curious how it get’s it’s airflow. There may be a “What’s The Deal With…” article about this car once I learn more.

Alfa Romeo Milano.jpg

I am baffled as to why this particular Alfa Romeo Milano isn’t famous across the world. It is such a well sorted build and it feels like it has been around forever. The owner of this car built it with the attention to detail and quality that you usually see a Mk2 GTI or a Supra and those cars are significantly easier to build. The owner of this car could have simply owned a Milano and been good with calling it a day because it both existed and ran but he has taken it to the next level.

Milano Engine.jpg

Even the engine bay is fabulously detailed, there is nary an oil splash or stripped bolt on the car. Saying “I can’t find a replacement part” is no longer an excuse because building a Milano to this level is like doing a build with hard mode on, then getting a 100% completion rate. It makes me feel self conscious about my cars, I need to step my game up, This was without a doubt my favorite car of the show, in fact this is on my short list of favorite car in Minnesota.

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The beauty of Under The Crazy Moon is that it would be a completely average show at Monterey Car Week but, instead of just being another show happening at Car Week, it stands to be much better on it’s own. It is an example of things being great in context, it is the equivalent of finding a wonderful restaurant in a small town that you expected to be just Cracker Barrels and Waffle Houses.

Fiat Rear.jpg

It is also important to note that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t pretend that every Italian car is a derivative of the F40, it acknowledges that cars like the Maserati Bi-Turbo, Fiat X1/9 and Lancia Gamma exist and that is very important. Nothing ruins a community like taking yourself too seriously, there’s a reason that Italian cars, Radwood and Japanese classics are en vogue while other things are on the decline. Enjoy yourself, have a laugh and meet great people, that’s the joy of Under The Crazy Moon.

 

EVENT: Modest – Premium Automotive Showcase

Drive Cartel hosted their second Modest Premium Automotive Showcase at the end of June in St. Paul. Honestly this is one of my favorite import car shows because of the quality of cars in show. It allows me to reaffirm my belief that car culture is still alive and definitely not dying. For a grassroots show that doesn’t have national recognition, it’s quality is quite a feat.

Modest Lineup.jpg

Drive Cartel hosted their second Modest Premium Automotive Showcase at the end of June in St. Paul. Honestly this is one of my favorite import car shows because of the quality of cars in show. It allows me to reaffirm my belief that car culture is still alive and definitely not dying. For a grassroots show that doesn’t have national recognition, it’s quality is quite a feat.

Lineup with GTR

This might have been the physically hottest show I’ve been to in a while, it was over 90 degrees with a dew point of over 70. That doesn’t sound that bad if you don’t know what a dew point is but take my word for it, it was steamy. If the dew point is in the 70’s, that’s more humid than it is in the Lacondon Jungle in Central America this time of year. Like Ricardo Tubbs from Miami Vice said “I can dig tropical, but this is out of bounds.”

BRZ Front

Regardless of how hot it was, Drive Cartel was able to keep things comfortable. The show was in the same location but moved to underneath the Highway 52 bridge and they bumped the show time back a few hours, so it started once the heat began to die down and we could avoid the worst of it. Another thoughtful gesture was that they had free Monster energy drinks and water available. I truly appreciated the pre-planning on behalf of Drive Cartel, they had planned the details of the show months before it was held. A lot of other shows overlook thinking of those details, or try to monetize keeping people comfortable, Drive Cartel though, they just want you to enjoy their efforts.

E30 Coupe

This year I was invited back as a judge for the show, which I was proud to do, and I have seen improvements in most of the builds. Unfortunately, judging took up all of my time at the show so we have a guest photographer, Tyson Noel. If you’re a regular to Carbitrage, you likely recognize his name because we always are talking about his Subaru. We will begin to host more guest photographers as we grow because I am limited by my corporeal shell to only exist in one place at one time and, more importantly, I want to show off the talents of other photographers in the state.

B Series EG

When I was judging last year I spent a lot more time docking points for people who had fairly major issues such as poor quality vinyl wraps, exposed zipties and generally a lot of corner cutting. This year, I saw far less of that, instead the most common thing I docked points for was poor quality preparation. If I’m nitpicking down to that level, it’s a pretty good thing. Some cars, like this white EG Civic, were prepped perfectly w

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If you’re not familiar with the show, Modest is limited to about 100 spots and is billed as the 100 best import cars in the state of Minnesota. While it might not be the absolute 100 best cars because I can rattle off a handful that should have been in the show but weren’t able to come for one reason or another, it was still a very good cross section of the best that Minnesota has to offer.

AE110 Corolla

While some cars are clad with huge widebody kits, other cars, like Toumoua’s AE110 Corolla are so creative that they’re in a class of their own. We’ve talked about this car before but this is likely one of the coolest builds of this chassis in the country. It blends several different styles with a few little JDM twists to make something that flows together on a car that just doesn’t show up at shows like this. Fun fact, that JDM license plate is actually accurate for the vehicle tax bracket this Corolla would qualify for in Japan.

Jetta Brown

Other cars like this Jetta didn’t try to blend styles on an obscure chassis, instead they tried to accent the factory bodywork for a clean OEM+ look. I really like the color matched tint on the tail lights. It’s not pictured but the air tank setup used a distressed wood floor that matched the wheels and really tied the whole look together, there were a half dozen other cars with distressed wood floors in the rear that didn’t pull it off nearly as well. I can appreciate how the VAG community seems to be able to make anything that Volkswagen throws onto a showfloor into something unique.

Hieps S13

Hiep’s S13 Silvia ate a wall at a track day last year, which was a major bummer and yanked the entire front end off of the car. Instead of sulking and letting the car fall into ruin, Hiep took his lemons and made a very good batch of lemonade. The front end getting knocked off allowed him to go a little crazy with a massive light bar and a body kit. Having just finished wet sanding the body of the car literally an hour before the show, Hiep tossed the bodykit on and drove it there. You can’t see it very well in the photo but Hiep’s carbon fiber hood has a thin layer of candy red paint on it, color matching it to the rest of the car.

Lexus Widebody

This Lexus IS took home trophies at both Modest and MNCEC’s Minneapolis Mile. I think that the hydrodip under the hood is a bit much but overall, it is a really great build. If you get a chance to see it, it’s very well put together. All of the bodywork flows together with even panel gaps and the paint matching is second to none.

Rocket Bunny S13

The low quality duplicate bodykits and ridiculous no name oversized kits that you could get for a fraction of the price of the real thing was what killed the big bodykit trend. Hopefully our widebody craze doesn’t have to worry about that since the vast majority of us are more interested in build quality over build quantity than we were 20 years ago. Having the most ridiculous car isn’t a necessary win these days and that’s a good thing.

Supra

The key to trends not getting stale is not over-saturating the world with it. One trend that won’t ever go out of style is speed because unlike the look of a car, you can always find a new way to go fast or just make a bigger number. This Mk.4 Supra is a great example of a car where power comes first. It is sporting a single large turbo, front mount intercooler, a bevy of supporting modifications and a very clean execution. Its nice to see that, while these cars creep up to $200,000, that people are still tinkering with them.

Tonys EF

Also creeping up in price, but not nearly on the level of the blue chip Japanese muscle cars of the 90s, are the 1988-2000 Honda Civics. Tony’s EF sedan is likely the best example of its chassis in the state of Minnesota. These Civics hold a soft spot in my heart, especially the EF generation, and its really awesome to see them built on such a high level.

R35 Carbon Fiber

Also on the topic of high end builds, I have never seen this much carbon fiber on a car, nearly this whole R35 GTR is covered in Carbon Fiber. I love it’s afterburner style exhaust tips. This isn’t a wrap either, it is all actual carbon fiber. While Carbon Fiber everything isn’t really my thing, I can still appreciate the effort that it took to do this conversion.

G37S Front.jpg

Overall it’s really nice to see how much Minnesota is improving. 4 years ago, if you had told me that the car culture would be as great as it is here, I would have thought you were crazy because we were doing good but it was all rather stagnant. We have advanced so much in even that short of a period of time.

Audi and wheels

I keep hearing all of these rumors that car culture is waning around the country but I don’t see that happening, not here, not in Chicago or even in California. Yes it has its ebbs and flows, a decade ago the recession was crippling, but I don’t think that car enthusiasts are going anywhere. Things just change, new generations bring new ideas and you just have to be open to it. Pre-war preservationists thought the world was ending when kustoms and hot rods came around in the 50s, then the muscle car purists thought that in the 70s when Toyota dominated everything and it still happens today.

kids cars

People are still making great cars, hosting great shows and advancing the culture. The kids are still excited by cool cars and I think that we’re in a great spot as a community. To the people who think that car culture is dying, that’s just not true. In 50 years, there will still be cool stuff being built, you just have to keep an open mind. Here’s to a great Modest 2019 and to the future of not only Drive Cartel but the Minnesota car community as a whole.

 

EVENT: Back to the 80’s 2019

The abundance of interesting things at BTT80’s is one of the show’s strong suits. It brings out a lot of the obscure cars around the state that you just don’t see anywhere else. The show isn’t just a bunch of Fieros, C4 Corvettes and dudes walking around in tube socks with jorts. While yes, those things exist at BTT80’s, there were also some of the weirdest things you just don’t see at other shows.

BTT80s 944 Trans Am Checkin.jpg

I went to the first Back to the 80’s back when they were hosting it up in Blaine. It was pretty cool to see the show happen but, good lord, you don’t realize how far away Blaine is from Minneapolis until you sit in traffic for an hour and a half in a CRX without AC just to go walk around in a hot parking lot for the rest of the day. It was a sign of things to come though, the organizers had more passion for that show than I’ve seen in most other shows.

Fiero Joey Clean.jpg

Fast forward to 2019, the show is now in Burnsville, still a third ring suburb but much easier to reach. The word has gotten out and the sponsors have been coming out of the woodwork, the organization has improved drastically and the show itself has exploded in size.

Shane's Celica.jpg

Going to the show for the first time in years, I was worried about it being another parking lot show. That being said, it didn’t feel like it was in a parking lot. Of course, it was cloudy, which did help but I didn’t feel like I was walking across the entire Earth to get from one end to the other end. I could walk from Shane’s Celica to the food trucks, effectively across the show, and I wasn’t looking off into the horizon to find something worth looking at.

Ford Exp.jpg

The abundance of interesting things at BTT80’s is one of the show’s strong suits. It brings out a lot of the obscure cars around the state that you just don’t see anywhere else. The show isn’t just a bunch of Fieros, C4 Corvettes and dudes walking around in tube socks with jorts. While yes, those things exist at BTT80’s, there were also some of the weirdest things you just don’t see at other shows. This Ford EXP is a prefect example, I had never seen one in the flesh until this show. Apparently the owner owns a dozen of these, the majority are parts cars to support the runners, and as the owner of an obscure 80’s car, I feel his pain.

Pontiac Tojan Front.jpg

Cars like this Pontiac Tojan were there, speaking of weird things that you just don’t see. The Tojan was supposed to be a Ferrari fighter based off of the F-Body platform with a heavily modified TPI V8, vastly improved handling and Gotti wheels. Unfortunately given that the Pontiac name didn’t have the cachet of the Ferrari name, less than 150 were produced. There might be a day when the Tojan just explodes in value, remember Duesenbergs were once totally forgotten too.

v20 Wagon.jpg

Next to the Tojan was my personal favorite car of the show. The world’s cleanest V20 generation Toyota Camry. This car was never intended to be preserved, it’s shocking to see one in this good of condition. The V20 Camry holds a place in my heart, not only was it the first car I learned to do spark plugs on but its actually a really cool car when you start to look into them. I actually did an in depth history of this car for Japanese Nostalgic Car a couple of years ago, you can find the link here.

Camry Interior.jpg

Talking to the owner of it, he said that it was actually an eBay buy. The car had an insane reserve price, so the current owner PM’ed the seller to drop the price a bit, after some back and forth it became his and for a much more reasonable price. While I still am confused as to why this was preserved to such a level, I couldn’t be any happier about the results and his buying process was totally within the spirit of Carbitrage. Our friend of the show that I was walking aroung with, Darren Brooke, described the car as “profoundly beige” and that it was the “essence of the color beige.”

Sprint Turbo.jpg

One more insanely rare car goes back to GM, or rather Suzuki, for one of the coolest cars I’ve known about but never expected to actually see in real life, The Chevrolet Sprint Turbo. This is a 3 cylinder captive imported Suzuki Cultus featured a turbocharger and possibly the smallest intercooler I’ve ever seen in my life.

Sprint Intercooler.jpg

Here is a picture of said intercooler with Josh Stowell’s hand for scale, like I said, comically small. With the 8 psi of additional boost and a large dollop of torque steer, the Sprint Turbo reached 70 HP and a shockingly fast 8.1 second 0-60 time. For reference, thats faster than the last years of the C3 Corvette, the AW11 MR2 non-supercharged and even an E30 325i.

Sprint Turbo Interior.jpg

Anyway, this car went through a complete engine out restoration and is likely the best Chevrolet Sprint in existence. If I recall correctly, the owner’s efforts resulted in a first place finish for the Captive Import category of the show.

Grand National Stage 2

Outside of the weird stuff floating around the show, there were so many C4 Corvettes, 3rd generation Trans-maro-birds and G-bodies that it would make your head spin. They likely accounted for at least 10% of the show but what felt good about it is that they appeared in smaller clumps and it made it a bit easier to take in. With so many cars, some were easy to walk past while others were rather unique. This Regal T-Type was a great example, judging by the chrome trim, I don’t think it was actually a Grand National or GNX but with the drag radials in the back and massive exhaust, it looked like it could boogie.

I do have to mention the C4 for a moment because there were a lot of them. Some of them looked slapped together with coathanger exhausts but, cars like this Lingenfelter ZR1, were in amazing condition. We forget how important the ZR1 was for the Corvette when it came out, it brought the Corvette back into the limelight after people had written it off for the better part of a decade. The ZR1 sported an aluminum V8 with DOHC 32 Valve head and 375 HP from the factory. The Lingenfelter version even expanded that an extra 100 HP, making it one of the most powerful cars you could purchase in the early 1990’s.

MA61 Celica Supra White Front.jpg

Of all the manufacturers from Asia, one brand in particular was able to create more consistently great cars than any other, Toyota. The Toyotas in show were excellent, a handful of trucks were there, a few Mk2 Supras and every variant Celica sold in the 80s. Getting a good look at the white MA61 Celica Supra at the DJ booth was entirely worth experience all of the 110 decibels of Huey Lewis coming out of those speakers behind it.

Red A40 Celica Coupe.jpg

Outside of the Supras, the 80’s Celicas were all pretty great, albeit not the fastest thing in the world but they’re 80’s cars, it likely never will be the fastest thing around. Instead, for very little money a Celica can get you into something that is fun, bulletproof reliable and easy on the eyes. This red A40 Celica falls deeply into the podium of best A40s I’ve ever seen, not just in Minnesota but have seen at all.

ST185 Celica GT Four.jpg

The first car I saw when I pulled into the show was this ST185 Celica. At first, I saw it and thought that it was a nifty little GT Four clone, it had the right bumpers, hood and even graphics. Then the owner got out and I saw that it was RHD, it was a real ST185 GT Four and further more was a GT Four RC, the highest trim level with the widebody and AWD. The owner and his girlfriend were wonderful people, extremely friendly and were thrilled to show off their car in the show.

Hello Kitty Suzuki.jpg

Robert Correll brought out his Hello Kitty Itasha Suzuki Alto Works. Fun fact, me and Jana have almost bought this car on several accounts but the logistics never worked out, it was either posted for sale when we were out of town or right after we had just bought a car. I am really happy to see it went to a good home and Robert has done a great job expanding on it’s theme. When we were at the show this little girl came up to Jana and poked her on the butt asking if she owned the car, the girl was rather shocked when a tall mustachioed man turned out to be it’s owner.

Alto Hood.jpg

If you’re not familiar with a Suzuki Alto Works, it is a kei hot hatch. It was government limited to 60 HP but you can easily double the stock output with bolt on parts. The car came in either FWD or AWD and was manual only. If you want a more in depth description of the Alto Works, I have an article here at Japanese Nostalgic Car. The Alto Works is most definitely a Carbitrage Top Buy.

Tommykaira R32R.jpg

Speaking of imported cars, we should probably mention the R32 Skyline. To stand out with an R32 GTR today, you have to have something really special, I found the coolest and most special GTR I’ve seen yet. This is an actual Tommykaira R32R, one of 400 ever made. These were $76,000 when new back in 1992, that was double what the standard GT-R retailed for. For those who are unfamiliar with the brand, this is to the GT-R what RUF is to Porsche.

Tommykaira R32R Interior.jpg

It came with a bespoke bodykit, wheels, interior accents and was tuned to make more power while still being just as driveable as a standard GT-R. Unfortunately the owner didn’t have the Tommykaira wheels on the car. Apparently, the night before the show he discovered a loose wheel face bolt. With dozens of bolts holding the wheel face on, he didn’t have the time to make sure every bolt was torqued correctly and didn’t want to damage the car so he threw on his spare wheels.

BRAT.jpg

Naturally with a show featuring 80’s cars, we were bound to see a lot of the first wave of modified trucks, sky high Toyota pickups, the last clean Bronco II, both generations of Subaru BRAT and some wild paint jobs were to be seen.

C1500 Diesel

Without any doubt, the one that caught our eye was this slammed C1500 with a choptop, a FedEx truck Detroit Diesel engine coming out of the hood and in the bed, not only smokestacks but two fog horns out of an old supertanker that was scuttled in Duluth. This truck is every bit as ridiculous as it is awesome.

Calloway Cabrio.jpg

So not only is this arguably the best Cabriolet in existence but it also has a cool story to it. Chad Erickson, the owner of SCI, originally built this with his dad back in the 90’s and it’s still in the family. It still has the Calloway turbo kit on it that they installed over 20 years ago and it is still going strong. Chad posts regularly about cruising around in it with his mom, his kids and, fun fact, he can even fit his BMX bike in the back.

Deloreans.jpg

Back to the 80’s has grown massively since it’s inception. I am really happy to see what it has done, it’s a testament to the commitment of the hosts. Growing from a small show put on by the local Minnesota Fiero club to something that can take up nearly a quarter of the parking available at one of the largest malls in Minnesota is nothing to scoff at. It is a unique show in of itself too, kind of a combination of Concours of Lemons and Radwood. I really have to say, if you didn’t go this year then you have to go next year. Even if you don’t particularly care for 80’s cars, there is still something there for everyone.

EVENT: Cars and Crafts June 2019

Cars and Crafts has been one of our favorite shows since they started the monthly summer series. Their June 2019 show was no different, the quality of cars, the quality of the crowd and the location, were all batting 100. It seems all too often that an excellent show series exists for maybe a season or two then disappears, either they grow too big or the crew dissolves. It’s clear to see that Drive Cartel has no plans to go anywhere but up and their crew has the talent to take their shows as far as a show can go.

R32 Front Night1.jpg

Cars and Crafts has been one of our favorite shows since they started the monthly summer series. Their June 2019 show was no different, the quality of cars, the quality of the crowd and the location, were all batting 100. It seems all too often that an excellent show series exists for maybe a season or two then disappears, either they grow too big or the crew dissolves. It’s clear to see that Drive Cartel has no plans to go anywhere but up and their crew has the talent to take their shows as far as a show can go.

S13 Parking.jpg

The only issue is that as the show went on, people began to taper off and Drive Cartel had to scramble to fill holes in the lot. Of course this wasn’t something that Drive Cartel could have planned for and they handled it really well. If this show was held at a massive location, like Canterbury, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue because 5-10 cars leaving out of 200 cars really isn’t a big deal, at a show of 40 cars or so, then it is suddenly 25% of the show that has left. Drive Cartel does a wonderful job of replenishing cars but they can only plan for so much. There ends up being half a dozen spots open in the show while cars like this S13 are still rolling into spectator parking.

AE110 Corolla Side1.jpg

There were tons of cars that could have used those spots and many of them did. In a brief stroll to get my tripod, I spotted a really well built TRD kitted T230 Celica, Wa Lee’s unbelievable CE1 Accord, just about every Evo 8-9 in the state and probably the coolest E110 Corolla I’ve ever seen in my life. Most of these cars weren’t perfect but some were totally worthy of sitting in the main show and, although Drive Cartel was able to track down a few of the owners, most of these just sat in spectator parking until the end of the show.

Genesis Orange.jpg

With the exception of people leaving so early, the show was excellent. Somehow Drive Cartel is able to get unique cars to come out of the woodwork, the regulars were there but there were also some builds I had never even seen. Those regulars to the Cars and Craft series had some pretty noticeable improvements as well. That’s the unique thing about the midwest versus places like the west coast, we get these massive changes to cars where as in California, you might see a different lip, then a different set of wheels and it just seems like watching paint dry.

Tony Yang EF1

A perfect example of this is Tony Yang, one of the admins over at the MNEF club, who has one of my favorite cars in Minnesota. His EF sedan build has been a slow build over the last few seasons, but I honestly prefer that over these cars that are assembled over a winter, come out and kill it for one or maybe two seasons before disappearing off the face of the Earth. For 2019 Tony has added clear tails, a paint matched center garnish and some really mean Work Meister S1 2-piece wheels that really set his car over the top. Maybe a 5 speed swap with a B17, or something goofy like that, will be next.

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Brian Jannusch of Top Rank, another Drive Cartel regular, brought out his latest R32 GT-R for sale. A rare halogen headlamp equipped model with an R34 engine swap. The R34 RB26DETT may put out the same amount of power as the R32’s original RB26DETT did, but it does so in a much more reliable and consistent manner. More importantly, it was equipped with a set of hyper rare TE37 wheels with a rose gold finish, naturally Jana lost her mind when she saw this. With what seems like half of the R32 GTRs ever made already in the United States, unique variants like this are what is needed to set the cars apart.

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This EG Civic was one of my favorite builds on this chassis in Minnesota in a while. It’s a simple build as it takes the standard Honda formula with a gutted interior, JDM bits and an engine swap but it puts them together into an excellent package. EGs used to be swarm meets like mosquitoes in Minnesota but after 30 years of rust and theft, what were once thought disposable are now fetching nearly the price they were sold for when new. It is good to see them at shows though, there hasn’t been a subcompact that nailed it this well since the 96-00 generation Civic was discontinued.

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Speaking of cool subcompacts, this Leyland Mini Clubman was a great example of one of the rarest Mini variants. Complete with Lucas electronics and the 1969 facelifted front end, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the little car. These cars are a rabbit hole of interesting variants, maybe we will talk about them in a future article.

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There were a lot more American cars in show this time than usual, a couple of donk Camaros and Mustangs were in the show for its entirety. The coolest American car, and likely coolest car outright, wasn’t even a car, rather it was this Dodge Lil’ Red Express truck. Fun fact, this was actually the fastest American vehicle from 0-100 MPH when it was for sale in 1978. Dodge took the muscle car formula and put it into a truck since there was an emissions loophole that didn’t force catalytic converters and EGR systems onto trucks back then.

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Keeping on the topic of fast American cars, this Grand National was at the show. It looks like just about every Grand National ever made but this one used to be one of the quicker street cars back in the day, I’m glad to see that it’s still around. Of course here at Carbitrage we would never condone street racing, but if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

S30 V81

Last year I spotted this S30 at Cars and Crafts but I wasn’t able to get any reasonable pictures of it due to a consistent 14 person mob around it. I usually hate V8 swapped S30s but the Mad Max bug catcher, twin carb setup and HUGE old school roots supercharger make this look like something that could have been in that first Mad Max movie, which is shorthand for absolutely positively rad. It also has that 70s muscle car rake to it with raised letter tires on some steel oval track wheels which really drive the whole look of the build home.

Blakes NA Miata BRG2

Blake Hummelgard’s Miata came out with a few small improvements this year, it didn’t really need anything except he finally got a color matched hardtop. This car is a great example of how to build a Miata. It’s purposeful but with enough flare that it doesn’t blend in with the other 1,000,000 Miatas on the road.

BMW2002

This SR20 swapped BMW 2002 has been around for a few years now, it’s cool to see it shows catering more to the import community. It seems like for the first few years, the only place that I would see it was at muscle car shows like Street Nationals at the State Fair Grounds. The 2002 is up there for one of my favorite European chassis of all time.

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John Krueger and his husband Patrick now have twin Miatas, while Patrick has a Rocket Bunny widebody on his, John is rocking a seriously cool old school Bomex kit. John and Patrick have always built some really cool cars and I’m excited to see this Miata as John builds it. Part of me wishes we could fast forward like 5 years until early 2000s bodykits make a full comeback but I also want to start perusing Craigslist to find still intact kits and start hording them for when they go up in value.

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This VIP Lexus GS400 doesn’t have the best picture ever taken, I have to apologize for that, but when I first saw it during the daytime I didn’t think it had anything fresh done to it. Then at night, I took a closer look and noticed that I was sorely mistaken.

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Look at that headliner! LED lights embedded in the headliner to look like a night sky. Usually I think VIP cars are a bit much and yet all too cookie cutter at the same time, then I see something like this and have to throw my hands in the air and say that I was wrong. I wonder if this is based off any actual night sky star map, where is Neil DeGrasse Tyson when I need him?

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Drive Cartel continues to have the best shows in the state of Minnesota, everything they manage to produce is world class quality and could compete with anything you find in California, Chicago or down south. If you haven’t had a chance to go to Cars and Crafts, you’re missing out, check out the next show July 6th at Saint Paul Brewing.

 

 

The Big 3: Hot Hatches of the 1980s #BTT80s

In this new series we compare three cars from the major automobile producing continents America, Asia and Europe. Sometimes it feels like these three nations can only excel in one field or another but this is proof that everyone can make great cars if they put their minds to them.

The Big 3 1980s hot hatches

In this new series we compare three cars from the major automobile producing continents America, Asia and Europe. Sometimes it feels like these three nations can only excel in one field or another but this is proof that everyone can make great cars if they put their minds to them.

The Hot Hatch is a car that appeals to almost everyone regardless of economic privilege. Everyone from Jeremy Clarkson to the vaping teen down the street wants or owns one. The plucky nature of a car designed to scoot through downtown traffic but is fitted with a big engine and stiff springs is a lure hard to ignore by anyone with a pulse, and with good reason too. These cars caught their stride in the 1980s and, with Back to the 80’s just around the corner, we want to explore the best that each continent had to offer during the era. Here are our Big 3 Hot Hatches of the 1980s.

America: Dodge Omni GLHS

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After committing harder than anyone else to muscle cars right as the oil crisis and strict emissions standards came into existance, Chrysler Corporation found themselves suddenly with a lineup of big hairy V8s that were slower, less economical and less reliable than its import competitors. Chrysler’s first solution to the sudden unpopularity of large V8 engines was to sell Mitsubishi’s compact cars under their name. While their captive import program got people through the door to the salesfloor, it did nothing to further develop Chrysler’s branding. Tiring of selling captive imported Mitsubishis on their showfloor, Chrysler changed directions and worked to develop their own subcompact car, called the Omni for Dodge or the Horizon if you got the Plymouth.

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After an extremely roundabout development program, the Omni was ready for production by 1977. The car was a modified version of the Simca-Talbot Horizon, a brand owned by Chrysler for the European market. Soon after the Omni/Horizon went on sale, Chrysler found itself bankrupt from their issues years earlier, sold off Simca to Peugeot and had it’s first government bailout. Lee Iococca, who was looking for a way to save Chrysler, saw promise in small cars and let the American Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon live on while he spearheaded development of the K-car. The Omni’s chassis, called the L-Body, did stave off the debt collectors long enough for the K-Car to go on release.

“I wanted to take the plug-ugliest little box Chrysler made, and turn it into something that could whip a Ferrari or a Porsche, at a price the average guy can afford – the guy making $20,000 or $25,000, with a wife and couple of kids.” – Carroll Shelby

At the same time that Chrysler was having their debt crisis, Carol Shelby and Ford were having a crisis themselves while in a trademark dispute over the Cobra name. Once Chrysler was stabilized Lee Iococca wanted to breathe some life into the Omni platform, he approached Shelby and asked him to make a hot Omni. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1987, Shelby was quoted as having said “I wanted to take the plug-ugliest little box Chrysler made, and turn it into something that could whip a Ferrari or a Porsche, at a price the average guy can afford – the guy making $20,000 or $25,000, with a wife and couple of kids.”

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What did Shelby do? He took the “plug-ugliest little box Chrysler made” and then did some simple hot rodding tricks and tuned it up to 110 HP. Frankly, I should note that I object and I think the Omni has one of the best hot hatch designs ever. The car was called the Dodge Omni GLH, which at face valve us a reasonable name likely meaning GL trim and H for high output. That’s not what it meant though, it literally meant Goes Like Hell. Soon after the release of the GLH in 1984, Carroll wanted more and he got his hands on a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger. Then he did the unthinkable in 1985, bolted the AiResearch turbo onto that Chrysler 2.2L engine and at 7.2 PSI it made 146 HP.

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In the right hands, the 146 HP Dodge Omni GLH certainly could whip a Ferrari or a Porsche but Shelby wasn’t done. Two years later, by 1987, he released the GLHS. Again, not meaning GLH-Shelby but meaning “Goes Like Hell S‘more.” 175 HP at 12 PSI of boost with a full frontal front mount intercooler gave the car the power to set a 0-60 at 6.7 seconds, on 1980s tire technology. That was enough to keep up with a Ferrari 308 and a Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

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Shelby certainly had done his job and he also unleashed himself on just about every Chrysler product during the 80s. Not only did the Omni GLH bring Chrysler back from the malaise but it set up their future with cars like the Dodge Spirit R/T, Plymouth CSX and of course the SRT-4.

Asia: 3rd Generation Honda Civic Si/CRX Si

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While the Dodge Omni brought back straight line performance on a budget, which were the hallmarks of the muscle car era, it was Honda that really became a cult classic. It wasn’t an immediate thing though, it wasn’t because the manufacturer gave all of the best tuning shops in the world dollar cars and said have at it, it was a much slower burn. The Honda Civic Si caught it’s traction as the hand-me-down car, parents bought them for first cars and gave them to their children, who then created this whole culture around them.

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Of course this wasn’t by accident, Honda’s roots were firmly planted in two fields, reliability and performance. This all happened because the Civic was just that great of a little car. After the war, Honda helped get Japan on its feet with reliable little motorcycles, they were pretty good too since they won the Isle of Man TT in 1961. So when Honda made their first actual car, naturally it was a cheap little, reliable sports car, the S500. Eventually they came to America and started to make subcompacts during the malaise, the car was the Honda Civic.

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By the 1980s the Civic was a mainstay in American culture and after some experiments with the slightly spritely Civic S and the cute gas-mizer the CRX, Honda dropped a bomb on us. The Honda CRX Si, and later, the Civic Si. When it released in 1986 the CRX Si had sporty figures not seen in years. As Chris Hoffman from Japanese Nostalgic Car likes to point out, the original CRX Si had an infatuation with the number 91. It had 91 hp, 91 lb-ft, 1491 cc displacement (91 Cubic Inches), a 9.1 second 0-60 time and weighed 1900 lbs.

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All together this made for a very sporty car. It was able to feel fun and spritely, while getting 35 MPG in the city. It did it reliably too, which even to date, is a rare thing to find. In America, the gears started turning once kids began to find out that these cars had deep racing roots to them and extensive catalogs of performance parts from Japan available. By the early 90’s, the car to own was a modified Honda Civic. The tuner bug spread like wildfire but it was little known that, the bug had already invaded other parts of the globe.

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In Japan, Honda had been doing a Civic One Make race since the 1970s, creating endless inspiration for boy racers then in 1985 Honda tuner Spoon, won its class in Super Taikyu touring car racing, and was even able to beat half the field of cars above it. The bug America had caught in the 90s, had already hit Japan in full force by the mid-80s. Companies like Mugen, Spoon, Junction Produce and others were able to create figurative rocket ships out of the humble Civic Si. The Japanese highways would see the Civic become the favored platform of the Loop Tribe racers, or Kanjozoku. The nimbleness and zippy nature of the cars felt right at home.

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This hotted up little econobox created it’s own cult following, for people in America, it felt like it came from nowhere. For those in the know though, they saw this coming, they knew it was in Honda’s DNA to make something great. Since 1986, the Civic Si has been a mainstay in American hot hatch performance.

Europe: Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI

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The Honda Civic Si is a wonderful little hot hatch, and so is the Dodge Omni, but none of those would have ever existed if it wasn’t for the Germans. Much like the old proverb “the germans invented the car, the french perfected it and the Japanese made it reliable,” the original hot hatch was the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The original GTI, planned for 5000 units, was a run away success with total sales of 462000 units. To change such a perfect recipe is not only playing with fire, but playing with fire next to a leaky propane tank.

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How does one improve on such a great design? Leave it alone as much as possible. You refine the rough bits, up the options and make deadly sure that you don’t upset the product’s balance. With the curb weight only increasing around 100 lbs between the final year of the Mk1 and the first year of the Mk2 GTI, the car felt 96.3% as sprightly as the original one did, but it did so with a level of refinement that was just right for a hot hatch. If that wasn’t enough, the car also dropped it’s drag coefficient by 8% so it would actually perform better over the original model at high speeds.

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Volkswagen’s gamble on updating the Golf paid off, the car continued to top sales and best of lists around the world, even when everyone else was getting into the “GTI” market. That term right there, “GTI Market,” might be the greatest boon to the GTI, it created it’s own market. It wasn’t the first fast subcompact but the GTI was a watershed car and after it came out, competitors came out of the woodwork. Some even took the name; Suzuki, Dacia, Citroen, Peugeot, Mitsubishi, Nissan. Nearly everyone used the GTI moniker at some point.

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Regardless of who used it, the name GTI stuck with Volkswagen. Whenever it seemed like the imitators were beginning to keep up, the GTI kept getting better. After existing for the first half of it’s life with the original 8 valve engine, the Mk2 GTI received it’s first major engine upgrade, A 16 valve DOHC 1.8L engine. It replaced the old 8 valve and it came with a power bump from 110 HP to a massive 137 HP. The 8.9 second 0-60 time of the old hat 8 valve was slashed down to 8.3 seconds, faster than a Porsche 944.

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There is a very strong argument to be made that the Mk2 GTI is the peak of the Volkswagen GTI’s lineage. It perfected what the Mk1 started and perfected it. It was more comfortable, faster and kept it’s looks. It did all of this, yet, it didn’t lose it’s direct feel that the newer models have struggled with. Regardless of how the later cars stack up against the Mk2, the formula has stayed true since there is word that the GTI is going to outlive the Golf.

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